Union members protest emergency manager billsPublished 10:44pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011
More than 2,000 union workers, many of whom were firefighters, converged on the Michigan Capitol’s rotunda Tuesday to protest bills that would appoint emergency financial managers to struggling cities and schools.
Their concern is that these financial managers could terminate or change union contracts and also strip elected officials — mayors, school board and council members — of power. The Senate adjourned Tuesday without a vote; the House passed the bills two weeks ago.
Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb and Niles Township Fire Chief Gary Brovold said Tuesday they were aware of the lobbying at the capitol, but did not believe any of their firefighters attended the demonstrations.
State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, a sponsor of bills SB153-158, said in a phone interview from the capitol Tuesday that the bills, which are expected to pass Wednesday, do not make Michigan “the next Wisconsin.”
“I don’t believe that we are line to be the next Wisconsin, other than the concerns that people rightly have about the welfare of the local schools and municipalities,” Proos said.
Calling it an “early warning system that gives taxpayers … the tools to address these things much earlier than they otherwise would,” Proos said this does not compare to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to eliminate collective bargaining.
According to The Michigan Citizen newspaper of Detroit, 70 cities and 50 school districts are at risk of having an emergency manager if the bill passes.
In Proos’ district, the City of Benton Harbor currently has an emergency financial manager. The Village of Three Oaks also had an emergency manager from December 2008 through February 2010.
Proos said the alternative to appointing emergency managers to financially struggling schools and municipalities is filing bankruptcy.
“It we allow these communities to simply go into bankruptcy … the federal bankruptcy court is simply going to do what it can without regard to the public impact,” Proos said.